THE Kennetpans Distillery ruins can be seen from the Clackmannanshire Bridge and although access is currently prohibited, repairs are underway due to its historical importance.

The area of Kennetpans was once a thriving salt pan community with monks at the local Kennetpans Monastery processing and selling it in the years before the 16th century Reformation.

Salt was used for preserving foods over the winter. The monks used cast iron pans over furnaces to evaporate the water, leaving just the salt to sell to locals.

In the early 18th century brothers John and James Stein founded the malt distillery there, although it is thought their father Andrew may also have established a distillery in the area in the 1720s. By the 1730s, Kennetpans was one of the largest in the country.

John Stein Senior died in 1773 so John Stein Junior took over at Kennetpans. The main building, which was three storeys high with lower buildings throughout the complex, is thought to date from the 1770s, around the same time his brother James founded the nearby Kilbagie distillery.

This was where the main operation took place.

The combined production of both was on an industrial scale not seen before, and the tax paid exceeded that of the land tax gathered for the whole of Scotland.

Stein had a Boulton and Watt steam engine installed in 1786, thought to have been the first in Scotland.

This was to create power for the mill in the distillery, replacing the windmill that previously did the job of grinding the kiln dried malted barley.

This was cutting edge technology at a time when industry was in the early stages of revolutionising the country.

The engine came from the Soho Works in Birmingham but was replaced by a more advanced engine in 1806.

The complex was vast, including grain drying kilns to stop germination, grain stores, warehousing, maltings and workshops, the remains of which may be seen today.

The empty casks were stored within the complex with the full casks being kept securely in the large warehouses.

A harbour was built as a free port to export the whisky, with the plies visible at low tide.

This is not only to transport the whisky by boat, as by land was too difficult, but also where the local coal and grain was delivered to be used in the manufacture of the distilled spirit, mainly for use in the London gin market.

Several boats could be tied up at once even though the pier does not look suitable for that today.

A CANAL roughly a mile long was constructed in 1780 between the Kilbagie distillery, which was the first to export whisky in Scotland, and its sister distillery at Kennetpans.

This was later replaced by a waggon-way, which was one of the first railways to be constructed in Scotland. A mound possibly containing ballast is visible to the east of the burn.

Other buildings associated with the Kennetpans distillery were demolished in the mid-20th century.

These were Kennetpans House, built next to it and demolished in 1945, and the Court of Offices.

Stones from the house are said to have been used to shore up one of the piers of the Kincardine Bridge.

In the 1780s, the government passed legislation to curtail the export of the ‘uisge beatha’ to England so the duty was increased, and one year’s notice had to be given to the authorities for whisky to be exported to England under the 1788 Lowland Licence Act.

During this time, production ceased, and the Steins went bankrupt in 1788 with their businesses being seized.

It was not the only business to suffer the same fate due to this Act. Many closed and no legal whisky exports were sent to England from Scotland between 1790 and 1794, opening up the market in England to English enterprises.

However, in 1791 distilling resumed at the site when it was bought by two businessmen, Thomas Dundas and John Francis Erskine, later 7th Earl of Mar, and leased back to Stein with production resuming in 1795.

When John Stein Junior died in 1825, so did the business at Kennetpans. The distillery had remained the same since its inception and due to its lack of modernisation, it was not able to adapt to the rise in demand for grain whisky.

The roof of Kennetpans was removed in the early 20th century with the internal fixtures and fittings removed shortly afterwards.

In December, 2016, the AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland to do a survey of Kennetpans before conservation work could begin at the site.

Original floors in the main building were discovered between 18 inches and three feet beneath the surface area that had built up over the years since its abandonment.

The building was documented in detail using 3D imaging and digital photography. This revealed that there had been several phases of construction at the site.

The Kennetpans Distillery was the first one in the world to produce whisky on an industrial scale and it remains Scotland’s most important historical distilling site.